Holocaust Memorial Day 2015
“Why do the Jews always make it about them? 11 million people died during the Holocaust, only 6 million were Jews”. This was a comment I read this week on a Facebook post about HMD, to which a reply came “The Jews make it about them so that they can get more money from the funds.” This was such blatant antisemitism that it made me despair. So now we are being blamed for caring, wanting to keep the memory alive, being proud of our heritage and ability to survive, mourning our lost ones. What is clear is that in the eyes of some we will never be able to do right.
Today, January 27, is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the date chosen as Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). 2015 marks the milestone 70th anniversary of the liberation of this most infamous of extermination camps, which perhaps helps to explain why this year HMD seems to be so much more desperate, frantic, important.
The remaining survivors are all of an advanced age now. Even those who were actually born in the camps and somehow managed to survive despite the most terrible of conditions are in their 70’s. The importance to hear the testimonies of survivors is now at a critical level. It really is nearing ‘now or never’ time. Please, if you get the opportunity, go and listen to a survivor tell their story. Nothing brings it more to life then hearing it first-hand from someone who lived through it.
Lady Zahava Kohn and Hephzi Radofsky with some Year 6 children from Rosh Pinah Primary School (26 Jan 2015)
Gena Turgel, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Eva Schloss, Henry Wermuth. These are all Holocaust survivors who I have heard speak in the past year or so, and last night I had the honour of welcoming Lady Zahava Kohn and her daughter Hephzi Rudofsky (an old school friend of mine) to my daughter’s school where she recounted her story of survival. It was the second time I had heard this incredible tale, but it was just as fascinating as when I heard it for the first time.
I myself have been involved with Holocaust Memorial Day this year. Last week I helped run an event at my synagogue when 180 teenagers (Year 8) from a local secondary school were invited to listen to Mala Tribich tell her story of survival from the Warsaw Ghetto to Ravensbrück and finally Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. For well over an hour this audience of young people, many of whom are Muslim and who had certainly never had the opportunity to visit a synagogue before, sat enraptured by Mala’s amazing story. Afterwards we ran a workshop activity and the level of participation and questions which generated from the schoolchildren proved the worth and success of the event.
On Sunday I was invited to speak as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor at Luton Town Hall for their HMD event. Earlier that morning BBC Radio 3 Counties broadcast an interview with me, which you can listen to here.
If you would like to read my speech from Sunday I have reproduced it below. For me one of the most important lines was this: “While there are still survivors who are alive then I urge everyone here to go and listen to their testimonies, but when that is not an option then it will be my responsibility to take their place.”
This is the sign that I held up proudly at Trafalgar Square two weeks ago at the rally in solidarity with the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. “Je suis Juif”
The irony didn’t escape me – the fact that my family were forced to wear a yellow star just like this one to identify themselves as Jews during World War 2, and that 76,000 people from France who wore that star were murdered during the Holocaust.
Actually that isn’t true. Children under the age of six years old were exempt from wearing the yellow star, and yet they were not exempt from being deported to the concentration camps.
1 million of the 6 million Jews were died in the Holocaust were children.
n the programme for today’s event my talk is entitled ‘The Young Survivors’. That is the working title for my book where I tell the story of a family during the Holocaust in France through the eyes of the three children who survived, all lucky enough to have not been sent to the concentration camps. Their parents and two other siblings were not so fortunate. The story was inspired by what happened to my mother during the war.
Convoy no. 77 left Drancy on the 31st July 1944, 3 weeks before the liberation of Paris. On board were 327 children under the age of 18. The Nazis had cleared the Jewish children’s homes of Paris, actually let’s call them orphanages because almost all of the children were orphans by this time, their parents had been deported and almost certainly murdered in the concentration camps.
Among the children on that particular train were my mother’s brother Nathan, aged 12, and her twin sister Annette, aged 6. My mother Paulette survived because she had measles and was in the hospital, and therefore she was not taken. All of the children on convoy 77 were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers immediately on arrival at Auschwitz.
As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, or a ‘second generation’ as we are also known, I feel a responsibility to help ‘keep the memory alive’ for those who did not survive and I have dedicated the last couple of years to researching my family history and writing their story.
My mother, who died 5 years ago, didn’t speak about the Holocaust much, probably because she had few memories due to being so young and also finding it too painful. Who can imagine how it felt to be the survivor and to have lost your brother and twin sister in those terrible circumstances?
The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘keeping the memory alive’.
My mother’s father Traitel, aged 40. Her mother Cecile, aged 41. Her brother Nathan, aged 12. Her twin sister Annette, aged 6.
These are the four Holocaust victims whose memories I am keeping alive, but what about the millions who have no-one to remember them? The Museum of the Holocaust in Israel, Yad Vashem says that there are 2 million names still missing from the list of 6 million who died and it is working to make that list as complete as possible.
Their motto for this project is ‘Reclaim a name, restore a life’. The missing names are quite easily explained when you think that entire families, even whole communities were wiped out by the Nazis. They say to be forgotten is to die twice and that is why I will not allow the memory of my family to be forgotten.
ecent events in Paris and the increase of antisemitism around the world has made it even important that the Holocaust and its victims are remembered, in the hope that nothing like it will be allowed to happen again. While there are still survivors who are alive then I urge everyone here to go and listen to their testimonies, but when that is not an option then it will be my responsibility to take their place.
There is a sign in the Paris memorial to the deported which says ‘Forgive but do not forget’. I will never forget but maybe one day I will be able to forgive.